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Jeffrey B. Perry Blog

Hubert Harrison On Beginning His Diary September 18, 1907 (at age 24)

It must surely be instructive to look back after long years on one’s past thoughts and deeds and form new estimates of ourselves and others. Seen from another perspective large things grow small, small ones large and the lives of relative importance are bound to change position. At any rate it must be instructive to compare the impression of the moment, laden as it may be with the bias of feeling and clouded by partisan or personal prejudice, with the more broad and impartial review which distance in time or space makes possible.

This may serve me in some sort as a history of myself twisted of two threads--what I do, and what I think. I hope I shall not make any conscious effort to impress upon it a character of any sort. So far as life is concerned as it comes so must it be set down. And if I omit any one phrase of my life’s experience I do so for judicial reasons and not for the sake of seeming better in my own eyes when memory has ceased to testify.

From Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 (Columbia University Press), p. 59. Read More 
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"Deteriorating Conditions and Theodore W. Allen's Comments on the History of Class Struggle in the U.S. in Terms of a Five-Stage Cycle"

The article by Hope Yen, “80 Percent Of U.S. Adults Face Near-Poverty, Unemployment: Survey,” brought to mind Theodore W. Allen’s Discussion of the history of class struggle in the U.S. in terms of a five-stage cycle in which:

1) The normal course of capitalist events brings on a deterioration of the conditions of the laboring classes.

2) The substance of the white-skin privileges becomes somewhat drained away by increased insecurity and exploitation.

3) The laboring-class “whites” manifest, to a greater or lesser extent, a tendency to make common cause with laboring-class Blacks against capital.

4) The ruling class moves to re-substantiate the racial privileges of the white workers vis-à-vis the Blacks.

5) The white workers take the bait, repudiate solidarity with Black laboring people and submit themselves without radical protest to exploitation by the privilege-givers."

In describing these stages Allen explained that “one important aspect of white supremacist capitalist rule in this country” is that “the unemployment rate for white workers is supposed to be only half as much as that for black workers.” He wryly noted, though “they don’t exactly believe in quotas . . . they manage that one.” But, there is “a limit on how much unemployment can be put on the back of black workers.”

Thus, if you follow the proportion of white to Black unemployment “you will find that in the years when the depression reaches a crisis, that the differential is narrowed, that in times of prosperity it is the greatest.” In the first phase conditions get bad then, in the second, “some substance of white skin privilege begins to be drained away, . . . the preference is there but the differential of the substance narrows.” Regarding stage four, Allen showed that “the differential between black and white unemployment went up” between 1929 and 1941. All of this followed the “first hired, last fired” pattern of racial privileges for “whites.”

Allen emphasized the crucial importance of anti-white supremacist, working-class struggle at all stages, but particularly between phases 3 and 5. For Allen, this was an especially key period to challenge the re-substantiation of “white race” privileges and to heighten anti-white supremacist struggle. To counter the past pattern of an “upsurge of mass struggle” that gets “swept into . . . white supremacist errors,” Allen urged keeping two principles in mind. “One, anything that cuts profit is good” and two, maintain “anti-white supremacist, proletarian hegemony” in mass struggles. He warned, “any other kind than anti-white supremacist proletarian hegemony . . . is not going to avoid phase 4 of the cycle.”

For more on this subject see Jeffrey B. Perry “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy,” p. 54-55 by going to the top left of THIS PAGE or by CLICKING HERE
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Posting to Louis Proyect's "The Unrepentant Marxist" Website on the Work of Theodore W. Allen,

Regarding your comments on David Roediger’s How Race Survived U.S. History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama Phenomenon (Verso Books, 2008) and on Roediger’s treatment of Bacon’s Rebellion in his chapter 1 (“Suddenly White Supremacy”) – I offer the following:

For those interested in the subject matter of Roediger’s Chapter 1, I much prefer and strongly recommend the documentation and analysis in Theodore W. Allen’s two-volume The Invention of the White Race, (Verso Books, 1994, 1997, new expanded edition 2012) -- Vol. 1: Racial Oppression and Social Control and especially vol. 2: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America. [Allen uses “Origin” because it is “consistent with the argument of the book, which shows class struggle to have been the origin of racial oppression, rather than ascribing racial oppression to ‘natural’ and/or pre-American ‘prejudices.’"]

Allen’s work is extensively and meticulously footnoted unlike Roediger’s work, which doesn’t have a single footnote.

Allen’s The Invention of the White Raace, with its focus on racial oppression and social control, is one of the twentieth-century’s major contributions to historical understanding. It presents a full-scale challenge to what he refers to as “The Great White Assumption” – “the unquestioning, indeed unthinking acceptance of the ‘white’ identity of European-Americans of all classes as a natural attribute rather than a social construct.” With its rigorous documentation, equalitarian motif, emphasis on the class struggle dimension of history, groundbreaking analysis, and theory on the origin and nature of the “white race” Allen’s work contains the root of a new and radical approach to United States history.

Readers of the first edition of The Invention of the White Race were startled by Allen’s bold assertion on the back cover: “When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no ‘white’ people there; nor, according to the colonial records, would there be for another sixty years.” That statement, based on twenty-plus years of research of Virginia’s colonial records, reflected the fact that Allen found “no instance of the official use of the word ‘white’ as a token of social status” prior to its appearance in a Virginia law passed in 1691. As he later explained, “White identity had to be carefully taught, and it would be only after the passage of some six crucial decades” that the word “would appear as a synonym for European-American.”

Allen was not merely speaking of word usage, however. His probing research led him to conclude – based on the commonality of experience and demonstrated solidarity between African-American and European-American laboring people, the lack of a substantial intermediate buffer social control stratum, and the indeterminate status of African-Americans – that the “white race” was not, and could not have been, functioning in early Virginia.

It is in the context of such findings that he offers his major thesis -- the “white race” was invented as a ruling class social control formation in response to labor solidarity as manifested in the later, civil war stages of Bacon's Rebellion (1676-77). To this he adds two important corollaries: 1) the ruling elite, in its own class interest, deliberately instituted a system of racial privileges in order to define and maintain the “white race” and established a system of racial oppression; 2) the consequences were not only ruinous to the interests of African-Americans, they were also “disastrous” for European-American workers.

In Volume II, on The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America, Allen tells the story of the invention of the “white race” in the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Anglo-American plantation colonies. His primary focus is on the pattern-setting Virginia colony, and he pays special attention to the reduction of tenants and wage-laborers in the majority English labor force to chattel bond-servants in the 1620s. In so doing, he emphasizes that this was a qualitative break from the condition of laborers in England and from long established English labor law, that it was not a feudal carryover, that it was imposed under capitalism, and that it was an essential precondition of the emergence of the lifetime hereditary chattel bond-servitude imposed upon African-American laborers under the system of racial slavery. Allen describes how, throughout much of the seventeenth century, the status of African-Americans was indeterminate (because it was still being fought out) and he details the similarity of conditions for African-American and European-American laborers and bond-servants. He also documents many significant instances of labor solidarity and unrest, especially during the 1660s and 1670s. Most important is his analysis of the civil war stage of Bacon’s Rebellion when "foure hundred English and Negroes in Arms" fought together demanding freedom from bondage.

It was in the period after Bacon's Rebellion that the “white race” was invented as a ruling-class social control formation. Allen describes systematic ruling-class policies, which conferred “white race” privileges on European-Americans while imposing harsher disabilities on African-Americans resulting in a system of racial slavery, a form of racial oppression that also imposed severe racial proscriptions on free African-Americans. He emphasizes that when African-Americans were deprived of their long-held right to vote in Virginia and Governor William Gooch explained in 1735 that the Virginia Assembly had decided upon this curtailment of the franchise in order "to fix a perpetual Brand upon Free Negros & Mulattos," it was not an "unthinking decision." Rather, it was a deliberate act by the plantation bourgeoisie and was a conscious decision in the process of establishing a system of racial oppression, even though it entailed repealing an electoral principle that had existed in Virginia for more than a century.

In developing his analysis Allen's repeatedly challenges what he considered to be the two main arguments that undermine and disarm the struggle against white supremacy in the working class: (1) the argument that white supremacism is innate, and (2) the argument that European-American workers “benefit” from “white race” privileges and that it is in their interest not to oppose them and not to oppose white supremacy.

These two arguments, opposed by Allen, are related to two master historical narratives rooted in writings on the colonial period. The first argument is associated with the “unthinking decision” explanation for the development of racial slavery offered by historian Winthrop D. Jordan in his influential, White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812. The second argument is associated with historian Edmund S. Morgan’s similarly influential, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia, which maintains that, as racial slavery developed, “there were too few free poor [European-Americans] on hand to matter.” Allen’s work directly challenges both the “unthinking decision” contention of Jordan and the “too few free poor” contention of Morgan.

Allen also offers important comparative study that includes analogies, parallels, and differences between the Anglo-American plantation colonies, Ireland, and the Anglo-Caribbean colonies. He chooses these examples, all subjected to domination by Anglo ruling elites, in order to show that racial oppression is a system of social control not based on phenotype (skin color, etc.) and to show that social control factors impact how racial oppression begins, is maintained, and can be transformed.

For those who are interested, I also recommend Allen’s critical review “On Roediger’s Wages of Whiteness (Revised Edition),” Cultural Logic, IV, No. 2 (Spring 2001).

Finally, my article “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy” (Cultural Logic, July 2010), esp. pp. 2, 10-11, 63, 74-88, 102, 109 discusses additional Allen comments on Roediger’s work.

Jeffrey B. Perry
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Ninety-Six Year Ago -- July 4, 1917 Vol. 1, No. 1 of The Voice "A Newspaper for the New Negro" (The First Newspaper of the Militant “New Negro Movement”)

A July 4, 1917 rally of Hubert Harrison’s Liberty League at Harlem’s Metropolitan Baptist Church on 138th Street between Lenox and Seventh Avenues drew national attention and saw the first edition of The Voice: A Newspaper for the New Negro. Harrison’s Liberty League was the first organization of the militant “New Negro Movement” and his newspaper, The Voice, was the first newspaper of the movement and a prime example of the militant new spirit that was developing.

It “really crystallized the radicalism of the Negro in New York and its environs” wrote Hodge Kirnon. Historian Robert A. Hill points out that Harrison’s Voice was “the radical forerunner” of the periodicals that would express the developing political and intellectual ferment in the era of World War I. It was followed in November 1917 by the Messenger of A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen and in August 1918 by the Negro World of Marcus Garvey and the Crusader of Cyril Briggs. These four publications, led by The Voice, manifested “the principal articulation of the New Negro mood.”

The July 4 meeting came in the wake of the July 1-3 white supremacist pogrom in East St. Louis, Illinois. Reports on the number of African Americans killed ranged from thirty-nine to two-hundred-and-fifty and 244 buildings were totally or partially destroyed. Historian Edward Robb Ellis reports that in East St. Louis Black women were scalped and four Black children slaughtered.

These riots were widely attributed to “white” labor’s opposition to Black workers coming into the labor market and they were directly precipitated by a car of white “joy riders” who fired guns into the African-American community. Officials of organized labor served as prominent apologists for “white” labor’s role in the rioting. Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor, placed principal blame for the riots on “the excessive and abnormal number of negroes” in East St. Louis while W. S. Carter, President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, maintained that “the purpose of the railroads in importing Negro labor is to destroy the influence of white men’s labor organizations.” A subsequent House of Representatives committee found that the local police and Illinois National Guard were inept and indifferent, and, in specific instances, supported the white mobs.

The Liberty League’s July 4 meeting in the largest church in Harlem came one day after a “race riot” in the San Juan Hill section of Manhattan (the third in six weeks) in which two thousand people fought after a reserve policemen arrested a uniformed Black soldier standing on a street corner who allegedly refused to move fast enough.

The New York Times reported that at the July 4 Liberty League rally a thousand Black men and women were present and enthusiastically cheered the speakers who were “all Negroes.” Every speaker was reported to have denounced the East St. Louis rioters as ruthless murderers and each condemned the authorities for not preventing the atrocities and for not providing protection.

Edgar M. Grey, secretary of the Liberty League, chaired the July 4 meeting. He informed the audience that the League had sent its message to Congress and appealed for a thorough and impartial investigation of East St. Louis, of the lynching of African Americans, and of treatment of Black people throughout the land. Harrison spoke next and reportedly said that “they are saying a great deal about democracy in Washington now,” but, “while they are talking about fighting for freedom and the Stars and Stripes, here at home the white apply the torch to the black men’s homes, and bullets, clubs and stones to their bodies.”

As president of the League, Harrison advised Black people who feared mob violence in the South and elsewhere to take direct action and “supply themselves with rifles and fight if necessary, to defend their lives and property.” According to the Times he received great applause when he declared that “the time had come for the Negroes [to] do what white men who were threatened did, look out for themselves, and kill rather than submit to be killed.” He was quoted as saying: “We intend to fight if we must . . . for the things dearest to us, for our hearths and homes” and he encouraged Black people everywhere who did not enjoy the protection of the law "to arm for their own defense, to hide their arms, and to learn how to use them." He also called for a collection of money to buy rifles for those who could not obtain them, emphasizing that “Negroes in New York cannot afford to lie down in the face of this” because “East St. Louis touches us too nearly.” As he later put it--“‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ and sometimes two eyes or a half dozen teeth for one is the aim of the New Negro.” Harrison stressed that it was imperative to “demand justice” and to “make our voices heard.”

The emphasis on a political voice ran across the masthead of The Voice, which proclaimed “We will fight for all the things we have held nearest our hearts--for democracy--for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government.” Several years later Marcus Garvey, who learned from Harrison, emphasized that “[the] new spirit of the new Negro . . . seeks a political voice, and the world is amazed, the world is astounded that the Negro should desire a political voice, because after the voice comes a political place, and . . . we are not only asking but we are going to demand--we are going to fight for and die for that place.” According to Robert A. Hill, this demand for a political voice marked the new spirit of the “New Negro” and keyed the later radicalism of Garvey’s UNIA.

This call for armed self-defense and the desire to have the political voice of the militant New Negro heard marked Harrison’s activities in 1917.

The Voice editorial on “The East St. Louis Horror” argued that although the nation was at war to make the world “safe for democracy,” until the nation was made safe for African Americans, they would refuse to believe in the country’s democratic assertions. Harrison stressed that “New Negroes” would not re-echo “patriotic protestations of the boot-licking leaders whose pockets and positions testify to the power of the white man’s gold” and, despite what Black people might be forced by law to say publicly, “the resentment in their hearts will not down.” Then he described the core feeling of the new militancy developing in the wake of East St. Louis:

. . . Unbeknown to the white people of this land a temper is being developed among Negroes with which the American people will have to reckon.
At the present moment it takes this form: If white men are to kill unoffending Negroes, Negroes must kill white men in defense of their lives and property. This is the lesson of the East St. Louis massacre.

Hubert H. Harrison emphasized that Black people “must protect themselves” and “the United States Supreme Court concedes them this right.” Read More 
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“Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" is Discussed by Author Jeffrey B. Perry in Video Interview Conducted on October 28, 2010, by Bernard White

Bernard White, former Program Director at WBAI Radio (99.5 FM) in New York and current Take Back WBAI activist, interviews author Jeffrey B. Perry on Hubert Harrison, “Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918” (Columbia University Press), Theodore W. Allen, “The Invention of the White Race,” and the centrality of the struggle against white supremacy. This video of almost 44 minutes was filmed on October 28, 2010 at the Brecht Forum in New York and prepared by Marlowe Mason.

For additional information on “Hubert Harrison the Voice of Harlem Radicalism” Click Here

For additional information on Hubert Harrison Click Here  Read More 
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Theodore W. Allen, Author of ''The Invention of the White Race,'' Audio Interview by Chad Pearson

Theodore W. Allen, author of ''The Invention of the White Race,'' audio interview by Chad Pearson (in two parts) May 13 and 20, 2004 (scroll down to May 13, 2004 for Part 1 and May 20, 2004 for Part 2) is available by CLICKING HERE!
For more Information on "The Invention of the White Race" CLICK HERE!
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